It started in September
I’m not sure I like the concept of quick-fix diet and exercise programmes. I think they offer people a way to punish themselves, and I don’t think they’re a sustainable thing to keep up once they’re finished. Sure, they get results. But I’m not sure I like the journey they take someone on, nor the (psychological) destination they often lead someone to.
However, late last year, I agreed to take part in a body transformation experiment. I did it for a number of reasons. I was curious! I had a genuine willingness to learn. I guess I was (just about) willing to be proven wrong too… Although I’ll admit, I probably went in, searching for evidence to back up my beliefs. Whatever, you can be certain I went in with my eyes open!
Despite the fact that I think these transformations are physically achievable, I do think they’re a short term solution where the result is literally only an aesthetic one; and I think they should incorporate lessons in how to build a longer term love for your body, while you’re doing all the weight loss and exercise stuff. I think this would make them more successful, for two reasons actually…
Firstly, a foundation of self-love and self-respect is very important because I do wonder if there’s a web of body-hatred and low self-esteem that fuels a lot of participants to do these programmes.
Secondly, only when you love and cherish your body, are you intrinsically motivated to look after it. And only then will you have a realistic chance of maintaining a desire to do fitness and maintain a healthy (and by that I mean balanced) lifestyle, once the programme’s over.
But hey, I must be growing up, because I understand not everyone thinks like me, and people are motivated to get fit in different ways. Some people want the kick up the arse these programmes offer, and perhaps these people are looking at me, wondering why I’m making so many excuses about working hard.
Time to actually try the thing I’ve got so many opinions on. Time for my transformation!
A question of self-esteem
My body transformation meant 12 weeks of resistance (weight) training, conditioning and tracking my calories and macros (ratios of carbs, fats and proteins). My aim was not to exceed 1450 calories a day (nope, that’s not a typo). The goal was to lose body fat and build lean muscle which was more visible. It required dedication, and it required me to really open my mind.
My trainer knew my worries and was dedicated to helping me get over emotional hurdles in those first few weeks. I’ve realised that, in the beginning, I was turning up for training feeling reluctant and low in confidence. My attitude reflected this.
At the end of week three, I ended up crying between sets. My trainer and I had a chat, and he adjusted things to make them less intimidating. I was grateful for his willingness to adapt stuff to keep me focused on completing the experiment.
I had gone home that night feeling rubbish, and realised I had two choices: stop the experiment now, or carry on and give it 100%. I decided to go with the latter. I wanted to learn. And I just needed to believe in myself a bit more.
From then, I stopped defaulting to the shy kid that lives in my head (like I always do when things get difficult). I’m an adult!! I’m sick of feeling so scared all the time. So I dusted down my self-esteem and marched back to the gym for weeks 4-12. I was ready to give it a damn good go.
My changing body
Training got harder and harder – reps, sets, weights and sessions a week all increased. I really learned the importance of my core. My strength improved and my muscles seemed to get larger and more defined. This might have also been due to the fact that my layer of body fat was decreasing as I was keeping my calorie intake low. So, my muscles were becoming more noticeable with less physical fat to hide them.
My body definitely changed shape and size. I had smaller legs, a more defined tummy, back, shoulders and arms. I felt like my body was smaller and I felt stronger. However I was SO TIRED, relying on caffeine to get me through a day, my digestion was sluggish due to all the protein (I think), I getting strain injuries from such heavy weights and I was ALWAYS thinking about food.
The experiment finished a little early, for a couple of reasons. My trainer kind of lost interest in helping me complete it because it was clear I had started to eat the odd slice of cake (it was December, I was always hungry because of my ridiculous calorie deficit, and I bloody love Christmas and felt depressed I was missing my usual festive enjoyment of it). But when I wasn’t losing as much weight as was predicted, and maybe not looking like I was going to make for an impressive enough “before and after” photo, I feel like he got frustrated and gave up which was a shame. I completed the last couple of weeks by myself.
I also finished early because the final week of my transformation fell between Christmas and New Year, and I decided to give myself a break and not be in the gym 5 times during Christmas week… because I’m a normal human.
I also don’t have any comparative before and after stats for you either, because my trainer stopped showing up. So – my results are based purely on how I felt and what I could see in the mirror!
The verdict’s in
My verdict on the experience and the results are interesting because they aren’t clear cut. On the plus side, I certainly finished feeling positive within myself in terms of how I looked, and how strong I got.
I realised three important things throughout the experience which have helped me decide that I won’t ever doing another “quick transformation” style programme in the future. It was a fantastic experiment to learn from, but it wasn’t for me. And here’s why…
1. These programmes work – but you have to work!
It’s true – my body was different at the end. So a transformation definitely took place! But I had to work my ass off for it. And at time’s that was really lonely and really miserable.
And that’s the thing with the pursuit of the “perfect” body – it requires 100% dedication. That means 100% accountability for the food you’re eating and almost 100% of your spare time spent training, or recovering from training. That just doesn’t feel like the sort of normal life that most people lead. The frequency and intensity of sessions each week stressed me out, and made me horrible to live with. That wasn’t a pay off that I felt was worth a drop in dress size.
If you’re considering a transformatiom like this, then decide how much you want to change, and work out whether you’re willing to do what it takes to get you there.
If you’re willing to give what your goal requires of you, then that’s cool! But if what you need to do to achieve your goal, isn’t in sync with what you’re prepared to do, then you need a rethink. What are you willing to sacrifice? Here I’d recommend a little see-saw to help you work out what you’re prepared to sacrifice vs the results you want. Don’t be afraid to challenge yourself to reach a goal! But don’t set yourself up for failure either.
For me, a balanced see-saw includes thinking about what I eat in moderation, going to the gym 4 times a week if I can, enjoying cake, never using scales, and making sure I get plenty of rest. I know this will never result in a rock hard, lean, size 6 body. But I’ll be happy and I’ll have a body I feel confident and comfortable living in.
2. Are you mentally prepared?
I knew what I was letting myself in for (just about!) and I also knew that I was going to relax at the end of the programme, over Christmas.
A few times over Christmas though, my body-transformation brain definitely took over and I started to panic about my potential muscle loss or fat gain. These thoughts chipped away at me a bit and, at times, flared up my anxiety.
I did regain some weight over Christmas. If I was in a different place in my head, this had the potential to upset me and dent my self-esteem. It did knock my confidence a little if I’m honest, but I got good at catching my thoughts and stopping them!
I can definitely see how a negative thinking pattern about my regular, healthy body might have spiralled into a negative place, after almost 12 weeks of training my brain to believe my body was “bad” before and “better” now. I didn’t want it to get “bad” again, did I? (This was a really weird one, because I liked my body a lot before I started!)
So, think before you sign up to track, measure and obsess over stuff like how you move and what you eat. Be honest with yourself – is this the right programme to make you feel positive and motivated to carry it on? Will your body changes affect you positively, or will you slip back into old habits? And will these old habits leave you feeling negative and depressed because you couldn’t maintain the “better you”?
3. It’s actually about week 13
None of this was easy, but wanting to see the thing through and having a personally high motivation to exercise made the whole process easier. Doing this in the place I worked, made this easier still. So week 13 saw me working hard to positively incorporate my new-found knowledge into my active lifestyle.
BUT…. If you’ve never set foot into a gym before, and you decide to do one of these, just visualise what the week, and indeed the year after the whole programme is “over”, will mean for you. Should you be looking for something that will improve your health while also addressing what’s going on in your head?
Girls, listen up. A body transformation should only be taken if your goal is to transform your body. Only sign up to a fat-loss programme if you want to decrease body fat.
If actually, your self-esteem or perceived body image is low, or you think you’re fat and people around you are saying otherwise… or if you’re trying to look like your fave celebrity after they’ve been airbrushed, then please realise these are the issues making you hate on your body. You should be asking yourself if a body transformation is actually going to fix the thing that needs attention.
If you just blindly assume that changing your body will make you feel better, then you might be setting yourself up for short-term “success” but longer term failure.
The future for me
These transformations will work for some, and not for others. I’ve learned a lot, I’ll use this new knowledge to train my clients when I’m qualified in some ways, but other things I’ll avoid like the plague. I’m grateful for the experience and perspective it’s given me, and for the trainer it’ll make me.
But I think body transformations and I will part ways here. For me, it’s back to fun classes that leave me weak with laughter…. instinctive food moderation over calorie counting…. no more scales… and my beloved cardio will return!
The only real change will be a few more weights in the mix now. I like being strong!